No. ??: Alan Trammell

SOCHI — Well, the overwhelming thing that is the Winter Olympics has completely thrown me off my 100 greatest baseball players ever schedule. So it goes. We’ll pick up where we left off after I return and recover and get back on U.S. time. I predict this will be sometime in July.

In the meantime, I’ve been thinking about one big mistake I made in the Top 100 list, I’m sure I’ve made dozens of mistakes but one in particular stands out to me. And it relates pretty directly to the biggest baseball news of the last week.

I left Alan Trammell off my Top 100. That’s just not right. And I’ll need to correct that.

When Derek Jeter announced his retirement a couple of days ago, I wrote about how amazing it is — in these times of Twitter and 24-hour sports talk and mean-old defensive statistics and smark-aleck bloggers who invent words like Jeterate — that Derek Jeter will walk away from the game almost universally admired. It is a happy fate that eluded almost every great player of his time. Derek Jeter was a fantastic player, a sure Hall of Famer, a man who played hard every day. For the next six months, people will come to dedicate a portion of baseball immortality on him. It is altogether fitting and proper that they should do this.

But in a larger sense …

In the last last few days someone wrote how there will never a Yankee who mattered more than Derek Jeter. Someone wrote this tripe about how stat nerds need to shut up because Derek Jeter was, like, the awesomest thing ever. Someone wrote that the Hall of Fame should change its induction rules because Jeter should go in early with his buddy Mariano Rivera. Red Sox players were effusive, Bud Selig, after spending months breaking Alex Rodriguez, wrote the most glowing statement about him. Albert Pujols said he was “pretty close” to Jesus.

And I it hit me: Oh yeah, THAT’S why I invented the word Jeterate.

He was a fantastic baseball player. But you know what? Alan Trammell was just about as good.

Here are Alan Trammell’s and Derek Jeter’s neutralized offensive numbers.

Trammell: .289/.357/.420
Jeter: .307/.375/..439

Jeter was a better hitter. But it was closer than you might think. They had similar strengths offensively. At their best, they were .300 hitters with some power and some speed. Both lost deserving MVP awards to players who hit a lot of home runs and had a lot of RBIs. Jeter played in a historically high scoring time which inflated his numbers. Trammell played in a low-scoring time, which depressed his. So their actual numbers diverge. Plus Jeter was much more dependable which is no small thing. Jeter played in 300-plus more games. He played 140-plus games in 15 seasons. Trammell because of injuries and such managed only eight 140-game seasons.

But Trammell has his advantages too — namely defense. Trammell was a much, much, much, much, much, much — can’t put “much” in here enough times — much better defensive shortstop.

By Baseball Reference’s defensive WAR Trammell was 22 wins better than an average shortstop. Jeter was nine wins worse.

By Fangraphs, Trammell was 76 runs better than a replacement shortstop. Jeter was 139 runs worse.

You can buy those numbers or you can partially agree with them or you can throw them out entirely, but there’s no doubt in my mind that Trammell was a better defensive shortstop. It’s only a matter of degree. And where Jeter’s offensive strengths and longevity give him a cushion over Trammell, the defense unquestionably cuts into the lead.

More: They were both widely respected players. They were both leaders on excellent teams. They both had great years. It’s fascinating to look at their five best years by Baseball Reference WAR.

Jeter: 8.0 (1999); 7.5 (1998); 6.6 (2009); 5.5 (2006); 5.1 (2001).
Trammell: 8.2 (1987); 6.7 (1990); 6.6 (1984); 6.3 (1986); 6.0 (1983).

And by Fangraphs WAR:

Jeter: 7.4 (1999); 6.8 (2009); 6.2 (1998); 6.1 (2006); 5.5 (2002).
Trammell: 7.7 (1987); 6.9 (1984); 6.2 (1990); 5.7 (1986); 5.6 (1983).

By both of those measures, Trammell was at least as good, and perhaps a tick better, than Jeter when they were both at their best. That’s because Baseball Reference and Fangraphs WAR weigh defense pretty heavily. Like I say, you might not think Trammell’s defense makes up that much ground. You might not even think Trammell was a better defender than Jeter. Baseball is fun to argue about.

All of this can lead to the easy conclusion that Derek Jeter was wildly overrated … and when people are saying he’s pretty close to Jesus or that he belongs on Yankees Mount Rushmore (worst tourist attraction EVER!), yeah, it’s hard to argue. But my point is different. My point is that Alan Trammell was criminally underrated.

There are only a handful of shortstops in the history of baseball who transcended the position. You look at the Hall of Fame shortstops — many of them couldn’t really hit. Aparicio … Ozzie … Pee Wee … Scooter … all of them were, in total, below average hitters. Cal Ripken is viewed as one of the most powerful offensive shortstops ever … but he had lower slugging percentage than Ruben Sierra and Eric Karros. The position is so demanding defensively, so demanding physically, so demanding mentally that very, very few players could play the position and stay on top of their games daily and be great offensive players and run the bases and lead their teams.

Jeter deserves to be celebrated for being one of those shortstops. He was probably the best player on four of the five Yankees World Series champions he played on (he wasn’t in 1996; there’s an argument that Jorge Posada or Bernie Williams was better in 2000). He helped his team in countless ways. I wouldn’t say he was the best modern shortstop but his career has been wonderful.

And so was Alan Trammell’s. Criminally underrated doesn’t even do his career justice. And I’m one of the people who underrated it.

144 thoughts on “No. ??: Alan Trammell

    1. KHAZAD

      It has still been fun reading it, but I agree it is hard to make any comprehensive list like this without forgetting someone by accident.

      Reply
  1. jaytay13

    that 1984 tiger team was a monster… so strong in the middle… Parrish at C/Sweet Lou Whittaker at 2nd/Trammel at SS/Chet Lemon in CF add Gibson in RF and pitching with Morris, Rozema, Wilcox, Petry…. closer was Willie Hernandez…. just absolutely amazing..

    Reply
    1. wordyduke

      Maybe not amazing, but unusual is that this team, with many players in the Hall of Very Good, included no one chosen for the Hall of Fame. Nearly every World Series team, going back to Ty Cobb, has had at least one. The 1984 Tigers were well-balanced (including 363-wiin share Darrell Evans in a supporting role), exceeded their Pythagorean by 5 games, and Hernandez pitched those 140 innings in relief.

      Reply
  2. Geoff

    Obviously this doesn’t do anything in terms of clarifying the last 52 guys will be, but it does underscore the problem with making “cute” selections like Rivera and Radbourn, as doing so requires you to leave much better players off the list.

    Reply
    1. Geoff

      Lol at anyone who thinks it’s possible to pitch 70 innings per year and be one of the best 100 baseball players of all-time.

      Reply
        1. Geoff

          It appears you have some bad information.

          Rivera topped 85 innings once in his career, and average 67 per year. Guess I was being overly generous.

          Reply
          1. Geoff

            “It was partly bad… 67.6 + 7.4 = 75.0 IP/year.”

            I think Jeter, Williams, etc. get most of the credit for that “7.4.”

      1. Ian R.

        When A) they’re pretty much all high-leverage innings and B) they are, on a rate basis, the best innings ever pitched, yeah, there’s an argument. Rivera’s career is comparable to the five-year peaks of many of the greatest pitchers of all time, and he spread that dominance out over 20 years.

        Reply
        1. Geoff

          The fact that many (though certainly not all) of them are high-leverage is entirely a result of the manager’s discretion.

          “Rivera’s career is comparable to the five-year peaks of many of the greatest pitchers of all time, and he spread that dominance out over 20 years.”

          Is this supposed to be a positive? John Valentin hit 249 career home runs, which is comparable to the five-year peaks of many of the greatest power hitter of all time, and he spread that dominance out over 16 years. Awesome.

          What kills me about this discussion is that it’s not blatantly obvious to everyone that closing is about a million times easier than starting. This is an undeniable fact. Nearly all of the best closers in baseball history are failed starters. Basically every pitcher that moves from starter to reliever is suddenly much better on a rate basis.

          This isn’t just the empirical evidence…watch the AS game sometime. Remember Pedro in ’99? I’ll never forget watching Ben Sheets pitch in the AS game (probably in ’04). Sheets pitched at 92-94, and occasionally reached back for a 96. Yet suddenly, he was dealing at 98-100. That’s not an accident.

          Mariano Rivera isn’t the best closer in baseball history; Roger Clemens is. Or Tom Seaver. Or Roy Halladay. Or David Cone. Or any one of dozens of guys who’s managers realized what a monumental waste of talent it would be to have them throw 60-70 innings per season.

          Rivera was a fantastic pitcher, but LOTS of relievers have put up seasons as good or better than Rivera’s best, including guys like Mark Melancon(!); you don’t have any Mark Melancons on the list of the greatest seasons ever for starters. What makes Rivera special is that he managed to perform at a high level for 18 seasons. He gets credit for that. He’s a worthy HOF. But he’s not one of the best 100 players of all time.

          I’ve made this point before, but if you asked any big league GM (again, not counting Colletti or Amaro) if they’d rather have Rivera’s career or any other guy on this list (aside from Radbourn), they wouldn’t think twice about taking the other guy. If you gave, say, Andrew Friedman a choice of Lou Whitaker’s career or Mariano Rivera’s, he would take Whitaker in about .003 seconds.

          Reply
          1. invitro

            “Rivera was a fantastic pitcher, but LOTS of relievers have put up seasons as good or better than Rivera’s best, including guys like Mark Melancon(!)”

            Melancon’s best season was last year, when he had a 2.0 WAR. (Maybe. He gave up 4 runs in 3.2 postseason innings, which is really bad, and probably bad enough to make his 0.9 WAR season his best.) Rivera had at least 2.0 WAR in 15 seasons. Rivera’s highest WAR was 5.0. Your statement seems quite false when it comes to Melancon (though I don’t doubt that some reliever had a >5 WAR in some season).

            “If you gave, say, Andrew Friedman a choice of Lou Whitaker’s career or Mariano Rivera’s, he would take Whitaker in about .003 seconds.”

            What is your evidence for this claim? And for the other GMs?

            I think it is very reasonable to value positive performance in high-leverage situations higher than in low-leverage situations.

          2. Geoff

            Wait, so Malancon’s bad 3.2 innings negates the great season he had? Interesting. I’m not saying Melancon is Mariano Rivera; he’s obviously not. But the point is, there’s nothing remarkable about his year-to-year performance in the era of one-inning relievers.

            I don’t know Andrew Friedman (which is why I used him as an example), but I do know many other high-level front office types and have asked some of them this exact question. Not one of them would take Rivera over a great starter or position player.

            You can assign as much weight as you want to high-leverage usage, but I think it’s nuts since it has absolutely nothing to do with the player. Would Barry Bonds be a better player if he had been used exclusively as a pinch hitter in close games after the 7th inning?

          3. RPMcSweeney

            @invitro: Mariano’s 5 WAR season came in 1996 before he was a closer. He was still setting up for John Wetteland, and threw 107 innings. far more than he ever did at any other point of his career. So I’m not sure that helps your argument.

            Goose Gossage’s 8.2 WAR in the 75 season is (I think) the highest for a reliever. But that’s because WAR is a combination of rate and cumulative stat, and he pitched well, but not unbelievably so, for145 innings. Uehara had a 3.6 WAR last year in 74 innings, but I wouldn’t say that Gossage had a better year than Uehara. On a pitch-by-pitch, batter-by-batter, inning-by-inning basis, Uehara was superior (e.g., Gossage’s WHIP was 1.19; Uehara’s was .56).

            All of which is to say that WAR is a bad metric for comparing relievers. Rate stats are more helpful, and while Rivera is certainly the best closer ever, pretty much every season it’s possible to find a handful of pitchers that produce the same rates/

          4. invitro

            “So I’m not sure that helps your argument.”

            My argument is that Geoff’s claim that Mark Melancon has had a season better than Rivera’s best season is false. Whether Rivera was a closer or setup in 1996 is completely irrelevant to that argument.

            “All of which is to say that WAR is a bad metric for comparing relievers.”

            It depends on what you’re comparing them for. If you’re comparing them for wins added while ignoring leverage, it is perfect. I don’t like to ignore leverage, so for pitchers, I prefer pitching WPA. Rate stats are better for predicting the future, and we’re not doing that here.

          5. Geoff

            “My argument is that Geoff’s claim that Mark Melancon has had a season better than Rivera’s best season is false.”

            Um, Geoff has never made this argument. His argument was relief seasons similar to Rivera’s are exceedingly common, which they are.

            “All of which is to say that WAR is a bad metric for comparing relievers.”

            I don’t like to ignore leverage, so for pitchers, I prefer pitching WPA. Rate stats are better for predicting the future, and we’re not doing that here.

            I mean, sure, if your goal is to figure out who the best kicker is, you can factor in their “range” and “consistency,” but me, I prefer to focus on the number of times they attempted game-winning kicks.

            Just for kicks, though, Care to guess how many times Rivera led *relievers* in WPA in his amazing career? Yup, zero.

          6. Ian R.

            “Is this supposed to be a positive? John Valentin hit 249 career home runs, which is comparable to the five-year peaks of many of the greatest power hitter of all time, and he spread that dominance out over 16 years. Awesome.”

            Uh. If you’re going to use a totally non-comparable example, at least get the example right. John Valentin hit 124 home runs, not 249, and he played 11 years, not 16. You’re thinking of Jose Valentin.

            Since you brought up this example, though, I’ll point out that Jose Valentin hit his 249 home runs in 6,317 plate appearances. That’s not comparable to our first-ballot Hall of Famer who did it in five years, which would be about 3,000 plate appearances.

            Rivera pitched 1,283.2 innings in his career. That’s five or six years’ worth of innings for a Hall of Fame starting pitcher. On a rate basis, he was as good in those 1,283.2 innings as any Hall of Famer was in his best 1,283.2 innings.

            For instance, Randy Johnson pitched 1,274.1 innings from 1998 to 2002 – that’s basically Rivera’s career. His ERA+ in those innings was 174. Rivera’s is 205. I get that relieving is significantly easier than starting, but is the difference in difficulty enough to offset 31 points of ERA+?

            I’m not saying Rivera is anywhere near comparable to the Big Unit, who pitched several other excellent years and a whole slew of other good-to-great years outside that five-year peak. I am saying that if Johnson is in your top 25 (and I think he has to be), then Rivera has a case for the top 100.

          7. Ian R.

            Also:

            “Rivera was a fantastic pitcher, but LOTS of relievers have put up seasons as good or better than Rivera’s best, including guys like Mark Melancon(!); you don’t have any Mark Melancons on the list of the greatest seasons ever for starters.”

            Wilbur Wood was worth 10 WAR in 1972. Dick Ellsworth had a 10 WAR year in 1963. Mark Fidrych in 1976, Teddy Higuera in 1986, Kevin Appier in 1993… it’s not unheard of for non-Hall of Fame starters to randomly have monster years. It happens more often for relievers, granted, but that’s entirely because relievers only pitch a third of a season every year. Forget 20 seasons… how many relievers have had even a three-year run comparable to Rivera at his best?

          8. invitro

            ““My argument is that Geoff’s claim that Mark Melancon has had a season better than Rivera’s best season is false.”

            Um, Geoff has never made this argument.”

            Sure you have, right here:

            “Rivera was a fantastic pitcher, but LOTS of relievers have put up seasons as good or better than Rivera’s best, including guys like Mark Melancon(!);”

          9. invitro

            “Just for kicks, though, Care to guess how many times Rivera led *relievers* in WPA in his amazing career? Yup, zero.”

            What’s your point? Rivera is #3 all-time in WPA, behind only Clemens and Maddux, for his amazing career.

            And a quick fact-correction: your “zero” should be “one”.

          10. Geoff

            Invitro,

            Here’s what I wrote:

            “LOTS of relievers have put up seasons as good or better than Rivera’s best, including guys like Mark Melancon(!).”

            Here’s what you wrote:

            “…Geoff’s claim that Mark Melancon has had a season better than Rivera’s best season…”

            You do realize that these two statements are not equivalent, right?

          11. Geoff

            “Rivera is #3 all-time in WPA, behind only Clemens and Maddux, for his amazing career.”

            This is an absurd comparison. Clemens and Maddux achieved their respective WPA’s by pitching exceptionally well in what’s essentially a random sampling of game situations. Rivera achieved his by pitching exceptionally well in an artificially inflated selection of relatively high leverage situations, as identified by his managers. Big difference.

            And a quick fact-correction: your “zero” should be “one”.

            Nope, you’re wrong. I appreciate the “fact-correction,” but it’s still zero.

          12. Geoff

            Ian,

            My mistake…I obviously meant “Jose.” I understand the difference between Valentin and Mickey Mantle, but to answer your question, yes, starting is so much more difficult that it offsets 31 points of ERA+. Again, this is evidenced by the fact that many, many pitchers have put up Rivera-esque seasons in just the last 20 years, while only a handful of pitchers in baseball history have performed as well as Randy Johnson, even for a single season.

            “I am saying that if Johnson is in your top 25 (and I think he has to be), then Rivera has a case for the top 100.”

            You’re comparing apples and oranges…I’m not sure one really has anything do do with the other.

          13. Geoff

            “Wilbur Wood was worth 10 WAR in 1972. Dick Ellsworth had a 10 WAR year in 1963. Mark Fidrych in 1976, Teddy Higuera in 1986, Kevin Appier in 1993… it’s not unheard of for non-Hall of Fame starters to randomly have monster years.”

            Two things:
            1) None of these seasons were really “monster” relative to the best seasons in baseball history. They’re not even close to the best seasons put up by Clemens, Maddux, Pedro, RJ, etc.

            2) The first three were characterized by good fortune more than anything. Higuera and Appier were fantastic pitchers who got hurt. Neither of them was remotely as obscure as Melancon or lots of other guys that have put up spectacular relief seasons.

            “It happens more often for relievers, granted, but that’s entirely because relievers only pitch a third of a season every year. Forget 20 seasons… how many relievers have had even a three-year run comparable to Rivera at his best?”

            Again, there are two things that make Rivera special. His sustained excellence and his postseason performance. This is what makes him a HOF, but it doesn’t make him more valuable that, say, Curt Schilling.

          14. invitro

            “Here’s what I wrote:

            “LOTS of relievers have put up seasons as good or better than Rivera’s best, including guys like Mark Melancon(!).”

            Here’s what you wrote:

            “…Geoff’s claim that Mark Melancon has had a season better than Rivera’s best season…”

            You do realize that these two statements are not equivalent, right?”

            The first implies that Melancon has had a season as good or better than Rivera’s best season. It is clear, and I showed, that this is patently false, and nowhere close to being true.

            Are you complaining because I didn’t include “as good as or”? That’s just…

          15. Geoff

            “The first implies that Melancon has had a season as good or better than Rivera’s best season. It is clear, and I showed, that this is patently false, and nowhere close to being true.”

            Patently false and nowhere close to being true? Melancon’s 2013 season is basically a dead ringer for Rivera’s 2006. It would represent the 2nd best ERA and the 6th best ERA+ of Rivera’s career. You want to quibble with me because it would really only be the 4th best season of Rivera’s career or something? Suit yourself.

            “Are you complaining because I didn’t include “as good as or”? That’s just…”

            Just what? It’s a meaningful distinction, since the point I have clearly been making is that it’s odd that a guy who’s supposed to be one of the 100 greatest players of all-time can have his best seasons matched by 28-year-old journeymen like Mark Melancon.

        2. RPMcSweeney

          This is getting fun!

          Geoff, I think Invitro’s correction is, er, correct. Baseball Reference shows Mariano trailing only Cliff Lee in WPA for 2008.

          Maybe I misunderstood your argument, Invitro, but I took your citation to Mariano’s 5.0 WAR season as proof that Melancon had never had a season comparable to Mariano’s best. Your rebuttal struck me as strange because 96 wasn’t the season Mariano pitched the best, it was the season he pitched the most. This seemed like support for Geoff’s position: generally, pitchers improve on an inning-by-inning rate basis the less they pitch, but in pitching less reduce their overall value. That’s why Mariano’s 96 season is his “best” according to WAR, even though he pitched better in other seasons.

          It’s true that each season, there are a handful of relievers who, in 60-75 innings, post stats as good as Mariano, and—naturally—Mariano is one of them. The impressive thing, and the thing that makes him a surefire HOFer, isn’t that he’s among the handful of pitchers in any given season, it’s that he’s among them EVERY season. This is certainly valuable, and Mariano gets all the credit for this. But while his longevity is unparalleled, his performance level isn’t rare—it happens a number of times each season, and often by unheralded players.

          Ian R: First I’d note that fWAR has all those seasons ranked substantially lower than rWar. I prefer fWAR for pitchers because it makes more intuitive sense. E.g., according to Baseball-Reference, Fidrych in 76 was the equal to Pedro in 99 ((.6 vs 9.7 WAR), where as Fangraphs gives Pedro the clear lead, 11.9 to 4.8. Maybe it’s cherrypicking, but fWAR seems to line up with reality better. Consider only that Pedro had a 8.46 K/BB, while Fidrych’s was 1.83.

          And your comparison to Johnson I think proves Geoff’s point. If Mariano could have pitched those 1,283.2 innings as starter over 5 seasons and kept up his 205 ERA+, then he’d be Pedro Martinez. But he’s obviously not. And that’s because pitching one inning at a time every few days is substantially easier than pitching 7 every 5.

          Last, and I haven’t done the research so I’m guessing, but I’d bet there are multiple pitchers who have had three-year runs comparable to Mariano’s best three years. Like Jonathan Papelbon, or Craig Kimbrel. Of course, I’d also bet that none of them will have twenty-year runs comparable to Mariano. But, again, that’s not because his performance peak is unattainable; it’s because his longevity is.

          Reply
          1. Ian R.

            I prefer rWAR for historical comparisons because it’s based on runs allowed, not FIP. In terms of what actually happened on the field, those seasons were comparable to Pedro’s and RJ’s best.

            I understand that pitching one inning at a time is easier than starting, but my point is that Rivera’s innings weren’t just comparable to Johnson’s innings – they were substantially BETTER than Johnson’s innings. 31 points of ERA+ is nothing to sneeze at. Rivera was still facing major league competition in those innings. It’s easier, but not by such a degree that you can just toss out Rivera’s advantage on a rate basis.

            And yeah, I’m sure that multiple relievers have had three-year runs comparable to Rivera’s best – I mentioned Wagner and Hoffman and Gagne and I’m sure there are others. But again, there are also starters who have had seasons comparable to the best ones Johnson and Maddux and Clemens ever put up.

          2. Geoff

            “But again, there are also starters who have had seasons comparable to the best ones Johnson and Maddux and Clemens ever put up.”

            No, there really haven’t, unless you count guys that were great, but got hurt (No, Doc Gooden is not similar to Mark Melancon). No non-great pitcher has EVER put up an historically great season. I’m not talking about someone who was incredibly hit/HR-lucky, and had great run support. I mean someone who was legitimately dominant over a full season.

          3. Ian R.

            Geoff, you’re using circular logic here. No non-great pitcher has ever put up a legitimately great season… because anyone who has a legitimately great season, by your criteria, is a great pitcher.

            Doc Gooden, while fantastic for a short time, was nowhere near the caliber of a Roger Clemens or Randy Johnson. For the purposes of the argument you’re making against Rivera, yeah, he’s similar to Mark Melancon.

            And, again, a full season for a starter is comparable to a three-year run for a reliever. Show me a relief pitcher who had three consecutive seasons at Rivera’s level, and I’ll show you a reliever who is, at the very least, the bullpen equivalent of Gooden. (Eric Gagne, anyone?)

          4. Geoff

            Can you really not see the difference between Dwight Gooden and Mark Melancon, or Eric Gagne for that matter?

            Let me help you out:

            Dwight Gooden was the 5th pick in the draft. He was in the big leagues 22 months later (at 19) after being promoted directly from A-ball, and immediately became the best pitcher in the game. He proceeded to have half of Mariano Rivera’s career over the next three seasons. He was so talented that he managed to continue pitching at a high level through the 1988 season, even though he was constantly high on cocaine. He blew out his shoulder in 1989, then after a decent year in 1990 was never really the same.

            Eric Gagne was signed in 1995 as non-drafted FA. He had a solid debut in ’96, missed the entire ’97 season, then pitched well again in ’98. He had a breakout year in AA in ’99, which put him on the prospect map. After a cup of coffee in ’99, Gagne got his first real opportunity in 2000 and sh*t the bed. His k-rate was okay, but he walked more than 5/9IP. The next season wasn’t much better. In 2002, at age 26, the Dodgers moved Gagne to the pen; suddenly he was the best reliever in baseball. his walk rate dropped to around 2/9IP, and his K-rate nearly doubled(!). He would basically remain the best reliever in the game until June of 2005, when his elbow exploded.

            You’re a smart guy, so I know you don’t really believe Gooden and Gagne were comparable. I also that that your bWAR preference aside, you don’t actually believe that Mark Fydrich and his 3.5 K/9 were actually comparable to, say Doc Gooden’s 1985. It’s difficult to quantify the precise difference in the level of difficulty between starting and relieving, because some pitchers are especially well-suited to the transition. FB/SL guys that throw hard benefit immensely, while a guy with four slightly below-average pitches probably won’t be helped that much. Mariano Rivera was a one-pitch guy with a middling K-rate and pretty good command in the minor leagues. There was literally nothing in his track record to suggest that he could be an above-average big league starter, and he didn’t even reach the big leagues til he was 25. Yet by some miracle, he moved to the bullpen in 1996 and was immediately dominant. You can’t possible believe this was a coincidence.

      2. DM

        Hey Geoff,

        I know we went toe to toe on Koufax a while back (and will probably renew that spirited discussion once his entry appears….probably soon), but I find myself mostly in agreement with you on Rivera. I wouldn’t have him on my top 100 either.

        Part of me wants to consider the possibility that he should be included on this list. I think there is a path to defend it on a certain level, but mostly that point of view has more to do with what it means to be “great” vs. “valuable”, which can introduce a lot more subjectivity vs. objectivity. Rivera generates near-unanimous agreement when you ask anyone (other than Goose Gossage) to name the greatest closer ever (although i agree with your point that other starters COULD have been greater closers, had they been deployed that way). I personally might make a case for Hoyt Wilhelm, who was much more of a 2 innings per appearance type of reliever and extremely effective….but that’s another story for another day! One could make an argument that Rivera was the most EFFECTIVE pitcher ever (on an inning-for-inning basis) at preventing runs, which is the #1 goal of every pitcher. The goal is to make sure the scoreboard doesn’t change. With his oft-quoted ERA+ of 205 (Pedro’s #2, of course, at 154, in many more innings), one could argue that no one else has ever been more effective at doing that within the context of his opportunities.

        Of course, that argument falls apart for exactly the reason you mentioned, and that is how much more effective pitchers get when they are used in brief spurts as opposed to pitching 6 or more innings every 4 to 5 games. ERA+ is only relevant in context of that fact.

        So, Rivera’s ERA+ is 205, and that’s certainly impressive. Billy Wagner, though is at 187 (he’s not listed at bb-ref among the career leaders because he didn’t reach 1,000 IP). Wagner barely averaged 1 inning per appearance. He never made a single start. He could afford to throw as hard as he could for an inning at a time, and was very effective, striking out nearly 12 per 9 innings. Anyone think he could have been that effective as a starter?

        Or Joe Nathan? Talk about a “failed starter”! Once he converted to a closer, he had one of the great runs in closer history. His 6-year run from ’04-’09 with the Twins yielded a 1.87 ERA and a 237 ERA+ over that span, 41 saves a season, over 11 K/9, averaging almost exactly 1 IP per game. Even with some bumps in the road, Nathan’s still at 158 ERA+ for his career. Anyone think he could have performed at these levels as a starter?

        Or Jonathan Pabelbon? His ERA+ so far is at 184. Sure, it’ll come down as he moves along, but he’ll probably end up with a pretty high number when all is said and done.

        Even someone like Francisco Rodriguez, who’s about 5 years past his days as an elite closer, still maintains a 158 ERA+, higher than Pedro’s. It’s clearly a by-product of throwing hard for an inning at a time.

        So, Mariano does get some points for being able to maintain a 205 ERA+ for his career, which no one else was able to achieve. He’s unique in combining that level of effectiveness in that role for as long as he did. It’s definitely impressive. But, it needs to be put in context of the effect that relievers benefit from.

        It’s a similar effect as to why, for the most part, relievers are also capable of posting ridiculously high K/9 rates. Looking at K/9 rates, the only pitchers with more than 1,000 IP over 10 K’s per 9 innings are Randy Johnson (10.6) , Kerry Wood (10.3) , and Pedro Martinez (10.0)…and Wood’s performance is tempered by the fact that he ended up with more relief appearances than starts, ending up with only 178 starts.

        However, if you lower the innings requirement to 500, who appears? Billy Wagner, Brad Lidge, Carlos Marmol, Francisco Rodriguez, Armando Benitez, and Octavio Dotel are all higher than Johnson. Between Johnson and Pedro, you got Jonathan Papelbon, Ugueth Urbina, and B.J. Ryan. Anyone really think they were greater strikeout artists than Pedro, Nolan Ryan, or Koufax?

        Craig Kimbrel, Aroldis Chapman, and Kenley Jansen are currently striking out 14+ per 9. Sure it’s early in their careers, they’re all active, and those rates will come down some as they age, but they basically come in, throw hard for an inning, and leave. Dibble (over 12 K’s/9) was the same way, as were Brad Lidge (11.9) and Caros Marmol (11.7). It’s exciting, and it gets the fans all revved up…but heir success is connected to being able to use them in that capacity. It doesn’t make them better at that specific skill than starters who pitch more innings but have to pace themselves more.

        So, the advantage in rate stats that you mention regarding relievers…..absolutely no doubt about it. It’s a reality, and everyone certainly should keep that in mind when making comparisons.

        The only way I leave the door open slightly for Rivera when it comes to the 100 “greatest” players of all time is due to his post-season resume. As successful as he was in the regular season, he was simply unbelievable in the post-season. Obviously, it was the perfect union of team and individual and era, because on any other team, in any other era, Rivera would have been hard pressed to have the post-season opportunities he had.

        However, any way you slice it….a 0.70 ERA in 141 innings against strong competition is amazing.

        If anyone wants to have a little fun, take a leisurely stroll through Rivera’s postseason game log. It’s something to look at:

        Starting at the top, 8 appearances without giving up a run. Then he gave up 1.

        3 more scoreless appearances. Then he gave up 1.

        Then 23 consecutive scoreless appearances (yes, 23).
        This, of course, is his postseason consecutive scoreless record covering 33.3 innings. I think Ford’s previous record, coming in starts, is more impressive….but there’s a different kind of impact associated with having it cover so many different games. That is one thing that, from a strategy aspect, a closer does have that a starter doesn’t….you can have an impact on many more games, especially in a postseason series, where, if things work out right, a shutdown closer can be a potential factor in every game. The postseason is certainly a different animal than the regular season.

        And on it goes….Rivera was also unscored upon in his final 12 post-season appearances.

        In all, he had 96 post-season games. Just under 1.5 IP per appearance. He only gave up runs in 10 of his appearances….in the other 86, the opponent didn’t score. He only gave up 2 home runs.

        So, I’d say that, if you had to draw up the most impactful postseason performers in baseball history, I think it would be proper to include Rivera alongside names like Bob Gibson, Eddie Collins, Christy Mathewson, Sandy Koufax, Reggie Jackson, John Smoltz, Curt Schilling, Lou Brock, Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Carlos Beltran, and George Brett (plus many others I haven’t mentioned) as players who were both terrific in their regular careers and also were signature postseason performers.

        So, if there’s a path to having Rivera in the top 100, I’d pin it more on the impact and performance he displayed in the postseason. Yes, he had unprecedented opportunities based on his team and his era to be in the position to have that big an impact, to have that many appearances…..but he really took advantage of the opportunities presented.

        Ultimately, then, what I would suggest to everyone is that it comes down to your definition of a list like this. 100 most “valuable” players? I’d say no way. 100 “greatest”? I’d say probably not, unless one puts a very high weight on the postseason. So, I see a path for him. But, if forced to choose….I think I’d leave him off.

        Thanks.

        Reply
        1. Geoff

          Agree on all counts, and I certainly see the “path” for Rivera being in the top 100. I just can’t get past the fact relieving is so much easier than starting. It’s like having a guy come into your gym a couple of times a week who does nothing but bench-press 275 lbs once and walk out. Sure, he *might* actually be stronger than the guy who throws up 225 lbs 25 times, but I wouldn’t bet on it.

          Reply
  3. Adam S

    “By Baseball Reference’s defensive WAR Trammell was 22 wins better than a replacement shortstop. Jeter was nine runs worse.”

    I don’t think this is right. First you mean Jeter is 9 WINS worse. But I’m pretty sure defensive runs above/below are versus average. Per BR, Trammell is 77 runs above average and Jeter is 234 runs below average at SS. The positional adjustments make Trammell worth 22 wins and Jeter -9 wins but if anything that’s relative to replacement level fielder not specifically a SS.

    That out of the way, I have no doubt Jeter will be a first ballot Hall of Fame inductee because on a fame scale from 1-10, he’s a 10. But I personally would have trouble voting for him while peers like Grich, Trammell, and Whitaker not only aren’t in but didn’t even get much support.

    Reply
    1. Ian R.

      Defensive runs are above and below average… which also means they’re above and below replacement level. A replacement player is defined as an average defender and a below-average hitter.

      You can quibble with that definition if you want, of course, but Joe’s not wrong when he says “replacement” instead of “average.” The two terms are interchangeable when it comes to fielding.

      Reply
      1. Anon21

        “A replacement player is defined as an average defender and a below-average hitter.”

        No, that’s incorrect. A replacement player has a certain run value, but WAR is agnostic about how he accrues that—it can be through hitting, defense, or baserunning in any combination. Total production of a specified level is all that counts.

        Reply
        1. Ian R.

          I understand that, but WAR uses different baselines for offense and defense. The baseline for offense is around 80 percent of league-average for the position (it’s been moved up and down over the years, but that was the original definition). The baseline for defense is league-average.

          Reply
  4. Pat

    I’m choosing to interpret the post headline as an actual question where in the list Trammell should go. The shortstops (other than Trammell) on Joe’s list will be: Larkin (#85), Ozzie Smith (#77), Arky Vaughn (#73), Jeter (#57), Ripken (top 50?), and Wagner (top 20?). It’s pretty uncontroversial to rank the shortstops Honus, Cal, then some ordering of Derek/Arky/Ozzie, although by bWAR it’s not absurd to put Larkin and Trammell in that same cluster.

    From the outset, then, we can set the possible range as anywhere up to Jeter’s spot at 57, and Trammell could fit into the top 100 in any of those 44 spots. But I think it’s clear why Joe ordered them the conventional way—Arky Vaughn was the legendary offensive shortstop, Ozzie Smith was the legendary defensive one, and Derek Jeter has the narrative. So we can fairly narrow the range to somewhere behind Ozzie Smith, say from #80-100.

    By bWAR, there’s no reason Trammell should be rated lower than Barry Larkin, as they’re within a tenth of a win. Neither has any black ink. Larkin did more of the things you think of shortstops as doing, though—he stole almost 400 base and got caught only about a sixth of his attempts (half that of Trammell, who stole 200 and got caught 100). And Larkin’s defense was more noticeable, as he led his league’s shortstops in putouts and assists, as well as range and fewest erros, which Trammell never did (he did lead AL shortstops in double plays once). So I think it’s probably reasonable to place Larkin in the 80s and Trammell in the 90s.

    The top 100 isn’t a flat ranking of WAR, and it shouldn’t be, and by the time you get this far up, all the rankings have to be performed rather squintily, so there’s an argument you could put him anywhere, and all the players in the 90s—well, there’s a good argument that any of them could be knocked off the list. For sentimental reason, I want to see #100 Curt Schilling stay there, which makes it tricky for me. But since Joe paired Frank Thomas and Jeff Bagwell at #61, I propose Trammell share #97 with Lou Whittaker.

    Reply
    1. invitro

      You don’t mention Trammell’s playoff stats at all… why not? Really, I’m curious… why didn’t you? You say “The top 100 isn’t a flat ranking of WAR, and it shouldn’t be”, but the main reason it shouldn’t be is playoff performance.

      I think not mentioning playoff stats is much worse even than not mentioning defense. Anyway, he had an OPS of .992 in the WS & ALCS, which is course enormously high. It looks like the only top 50 SS’s to have higher are Arky (1.667 in 3 g) and Hanley (1.045/9) and John Valentin (1.046/17).

      The evidence strongly suggests Joe did not consider playoff performance -at all- when making the rankings (even if he mentioned it in the articles).

      Reply
      1. Pat

        “You don’t mention Trammell’s playoff stats at all… why not? Really, I’m curious… why didn’t you?”

        Tiger A played in 13 post-season games and hit .333/.404/.588 while fielding a skill position; his .902 OPS was about .200 points higher than league average and reflected really superb offensive contributions.
        Tiger B played in 17 post-season games and hit .262/.314/.354 while fielding a skill position. His .668 OPS was a bit north of league average, but by no means spectacular. His teams lost every series they appeared in.

        Tiger A is Alan Trammell. Tiger B is Ty Cobb.

        That’s why not.

        Reply
        1. Azure Ray

          Pat, if post-season success is the only thing that matter, then Phil Garner, Marquis Grissom, and the immortal David Justice should all be in the HOF, too. Don’t forget how awesome Rickey Ledee, was! First ballot ALL THE WAY for him!

          Reply
        2. invitro

          “That’s why not.”

          You didn’t mention Trammell’s playoff stats because Cobb lost his World Series? That is nonsensical. Thanks for the reply, though.

          Reply
    2. Ian R.

      My suspicion is that Joe will have Trammell share #85 with Barry Larkin. He’s written before that they’re pretty much identical players in his view, and of course they’re almost identical twins by WAR.

      Reply
      1. invitro

        Yes, pretty much identical… but then Jeter is almost identical to both of them by WAR, too. The variance of the Trammell/Larkin seasonal WARs, ranked, is 5.5. For Jeter/Trammell, it’s 6.1, and for Jeter/Larkin, it’s 9.4.

        But WAA shows a big difference: Larkin 42.2, Trammell 40.1, Jeter 32.4. I am curious what’s up with that.

        I like ranking by WAA, peak, playoff performance, and Clutch, and so rank them Trammell > Larkin >> Jeter.

        Reply
        1. Ian R.

          Jeter’s greatness was spread out over a longer career. Larkin and Trammell had shorter, more focused careers. WAA favors peak value over career value, while WAR is just the opposite.

          I’m very much a longevity junkie, so I’d put Jeter right up there with Trammell and Larkin, maybe even a little above. It’s close, though, very very close. Certainly, it’s dumb that Jeter will be a first-ballot Hall of Famer while Trammell may never get it.

          Reply
          1. invitro

            There is evidence that inconsistency is better than consistency, in the sense that it adds more to a team’s probability of making the playoffs. Here are some urls for anyone interested:

            http://www.philbirnbaum.com/btn2005-02.pdf
            http://www.philbirnbaum.com/paaavCode.txt
            http://www.hardballtimes.com/pennants-added/
            http://www.hardballtimes.com/pennants-added-revisited/
            http://www.hardballtimes.com/what-is-the-value-of-a-playoff-win/

            I guess by longer career you mean more games… the three all played 19 or 20 seasons. WAR includes this as an advantage of course.

            I think WAA more favors a shorter career than peak value.

          2. Rick Rodstrom

            Consider this about Derek Jeter. In the 18 years prior to Jeter’s rookie season, the Yankees hadn’t won a World Series. They hadn’t been to the World Series in 14 years, and had only appeared in the playoffs once.

            Coincidentally, in 1996, the year Derek Jeter appeared on the scene, they won the World Series. Coincidentally, they were in the World Series 5 out of the first 6 years of Jeter’s career, winning 4. Coincidentally, they were in the playoffs 16 out of his first 18 seasons, winning a 5th World’s Championship along the way.

            That is Derek Jeter.

          3. Geoff

            Rick,

            I’ve considered what you’ve written. And you’re correct; much of what you describe is, in fact, coincidental.

            That is rational thought.

          4. DM

            Hi Rick,

            As to the notion that Jeter coincides with the Yankees’ tremendous success, I would agree that he certainly deserves his fair share of his team’s accomplishments during his tenure. As you mentioned, upon his arrival, they immediately won the World Series, and proceeded to go on a remarkable run over the next several years.

            However, instead of concluding that “That’s Derek Jeter”….how about concluding that “That’s the New York Yankees”. Or, do we just assume that the last straw is the one that breaks the camel’s back?

            When you say that they had only been to the playoffs once in 14 years prior to his rookie year, I guess you’re implying that it was his arrival that drove them to their great heights….well, that begs a closer look:

            Jeter’s rookie year was 1996.

            The Yankees made the playoffs in 1995, getting bounced by Seattle 3-2 in that thrilling 5 game ALDS.

            The Yankees had the best record in the league in 1994 with a .619 winning percentage, a 6.5 game lead over Boston, when the strike/work stoppage occurred.

            So, he wasn’t exactly joining a cellar-dwellar. They were coming off two pretty decent seasons, and already had put many key pieces in place by the time Jeter took over at SS full time in ’96. For example:

            - Wade Boggs had been there since ’93, signed as a free agent. He certainly was not the force he was in Boston, but still a .300 hitter and was still able to get on base 40% of the time.

            - Bernie Williams came up through the farm system, and became a regular in ’93. By ’96, he had established himself as a very valuable player, and was just hitting his stride.

            - Also in ’93, Paul O’Neill came over from Cincinnati, and immediately elevated his game. He improved from a 111 OPS+ while in Cincy to 139 in his first 5 years in NY. The Yanks gave up Roberto Kelly to get O’Neill. Score one for NY.

            In ’93, they signed Jimmy Key as a free agent. He had two terrific years before getting hurt in ’95, but was still able to contribute to the first title in ’96.

            - In ’95, they came up with Andy Pettitte through their system. He wasn’t a great pitcher, but he was a very solid and consistent performer over the next 2 decades, mostly for the Yanks, and a perennial postseason contributor.

            In ’95, John Wetteland came over from Montreal for the immortal Fernando Seguignol and cash, and had two very good years as the closer, including getting saves in all 4 WS games in ’96.

            In ’95, David Cone was signed as a free agent and was a valuable member of the team for the next 6 years.

            In ’95, Mariano Rivera came up from the farm system, made the permanent switch from starter to bullpen in ’96, serving as Wetteland’s tremendous setup man for one year before taking over the closer role the next year.

            - In ’96, they added Tino Martinez, Jim Mecir, and Jeff Nelson from Seattle in exchange for Russ Davis and Sterling Hitchcock. Martinez took over for Mattingly, who had retired. I think the Yankees got the best of that exchange with the Mariners. TIno wasn’t great, but he was pretty solid, basically good for 25-30 a year, including 44 one year.

            In ’96, Mariano Duncan signed as a free agent. OK….he’s Mariano Duncan….not exactly a great player, but he did hit. 340 for that first championship team.

            In ’95 & ’96 they signed Daryl Strawberry and traded for Tim Raines, two aging outfielders well past their primes, but that played very effective bit roles for the team.

            In a similar case involving past-prime players, in ’96 they got 11 HR’s out of Ruben Sierra and then traded him at the end of July to Detroit for Cecil Fielder. Sierra hit 1 HR the rest of the year for Detroit. Fielder hit 13 for the Yanks. So….the ancient Fielder, Strawberry, and Raines all on your bench. Good times! Seriously, though, even though they were all past their primes, they did contribute in their roles.

            After that first WS title in ’96, the Yankees upgraded their catching situation tremendously with the development of Posada, who solved that problem for roughly the next decade.

            In ’97, they signed David Wells as a free agent, and he ended up with 4 very solid years with them over 2 different spans, ’97-’98 and ’02-’03.

            In ’98, they signed Orlando Hernandez, who was immediately effective.

            In ’98, they traded for Chuck Knoblauch from the Twins for Brian Buchanan, Cristian Guzman, Eric Milton, Danny Mota and cash. OK….to be fair, I’d say the Twins got the better of that deal as Guzman and Milton turned out to be decent players, and Knoblauch struggled with his throwing, but it was an exchange of prospects in return for someone that could be the full time 2B. And Knoblauch, while not the player he was in Minnesota, was still an effective hitter.

            There’s more, but that paints a pretty good picture of what was brewing in the Big Apple around the time that Jeter came aboard. Jeter deserves high marks for stabilizing the position, basically taking over for an aging Tony Fernandez. He was a tremendous player and leader. He deserves his share of credit. But, we can’t just look at the success of the Yankees and conclude, “Oh, yeah….that’s Derek Jeter”. The Yankees used a variety of player options (free agency, their farm system, and trades) all very effectively. Success in baseball is a lot more than one guy.

  5. Jake Bucsko

    If we want Jeter and Rivera to go into the Hall together, maybe just wait a year to induct Rivera, the Ray Guy of baseball.

    Kidding. Mostly.

    Reply
    1. Pat

      It’s not… crazy. I really can’t imagine anyone consciously declining to vote for Rivera, but the steroid-era holdovers are going to be on that ballot, and a lot of the other “bubble” cases will have been building up steam. It wouldn’t surprise me all that much if 26% of the voters decided Rivera was their 11th pick for a 10-man ballot on his first try.

      Reply
  6. Cathead

    If you are putting Trammell in the top 100, need to take someone out. Or is this the 21st Century where everyone gets a trophy?

    Reply
    1. TS

      Isn’t Pos pretty much saying that in this statement?
      ‘I left Alan Trammell off my Top 100. That’s just not right. And I’ll need to correct that.’

      Reply
      1. invitro

        I suppose he’ll remove Schilling for the book version, which would make him by far the biggest omission (a title currently held by the catchers and Niekro and Plank and perhaps some 1800s players and certainly Lloyd or Kaline if they don’t both make it).

        Reply
    1. invitro

      Well… Joe is part of the problem, too, by ranking Jeter too highly by a few dozen spots. Ranking him ahead of Vaughan and Yount is just patently absurd… I suppose that’s been well-covered, though.

      Reply
  7. TS

    In reading through some of the lionizing columns, I was struck a bit quizzical by this point from Tom Verducci’s column:
    If you would like to keep Wagner as the greatest shortstop of all time, go right ahead. The numbers are there. But keep this in mind, too: Baseball a hundred years ago, in quality, speed and skill, hardly resembled today’s game; you might as well compare air travel today to air travel then. Teams would play entire games with one baseball — even as pitchers were spitting licorice on it and fans were throwing it back to the field when it was hit foul. It was far easier for a great player to become great because of such uneven talent around him. In what we think of as the modern game, Jeter has built the best career at the position.

    In the point that Verducci’s trying to make, it seems that he’s making an argument for Wagner’s greatness-wasn’t Wagner hitting and fielding said lumpy baseball with licorie stains covering it? Jeter played with many more teams than during Wagner’s time, couldn’t a strong argument be made about the dilution of the talent pool during Jeter’s career?

    I’d go with the “the game wasn’t integrated during Wagner’s time” long before I’d try these points.

    Reply
    1. Geoff

      “(C)ouldn’t a strong argument be made about the dilution of the talent pool during Jeter’s career?”

      One could make this argument, but it would not be strong. The talent pool is greater right now than it has ever been. There’s been tons of stuff written on this.

      Verducci’s argument about quality-of-play is fine, except that it’s always applied inconsistently. If you’re going to have Jeter above Wagner, you better have, for example, Curt Schilling above Walter Johnson, and realize that the current level of play in MLB was not achieved in the 1950′s.

      Reply
  8. invitro

    “It’s fascinating to look at their five best years by Baseball Reference WAR.

    Jeter: 8.0 (1999); 7.5 (1998); 6.6 (2009); 5.5 (2006); 5.1 (2001).
    Trammell: 8.2 (1987); 6.7 (1990); 6.6 (1984); 6.3 (1986); 6.0 (1983).

    Trammell was at least as good, and perhaps a tick better, than Jeter when they were both at their best.”

    I’m not sure why Joe does only the five best years… Trammell has the edge in the 6th and 7th years, too. Now since Jeter has the higher career WAR by 1.3, Jeter must have better season WARs later on. Here is a silly sort of graph of who had the better WAR when all seasons are sorted:

    J: 8.0 | TTT | T: 8.2 |
    J: 7.5 | JJJ | T: 6.7 |
    J: 6.6 | === | T: 6.6 |
    J: 5.5 | TTT | T: 6.3 |
    J: 5.1 | TTT | T: 6.0 |
    J: 4.9 | TTT | T: 5.9 |
    J: 4.6 | TTT | T: 4.8 |
    J: 4.2 | === | T: 4.2 |
    J: 3.9 | TTT | T: 4.2 |
    J: 3.8 | === | T: 3.8 |
    J: 3.7 | === | T: 3.7 |
    J: 3.5 | JJJ | T: 3.3 |
    J: 3.3 | JJJ | T: 2.9 |
    J: 3.0 | JJJ | T: 2.8 |
    J: 2.2 | JJJ | T: 0.9 |
    J: 1.8 | JJJ | T: 0.9 |
    J: 0.9 | JJJ | T: 0.7 |
    J: -0.3 | TTT | T: 0.0 |
    J: -0.7 | TTT | T: -0.6 |
    J: ??? | ??? | T: -1.0 |

    Reply
  9. Dave Edgar

    People tend to forget – Trammell was the consummate “do what the team needs” guy. That 1987 season? Trammell batted cleanup, because they had no typical cleanup guy. Thus all those RBI and career high in HR, in addition to a ridiculous BA. Totally got hosed in th MVP vote that year. A truly great player, who gets lost in the big media shuffle. If he had played in NY, I’m convinced he would have more than 1 MVP, and would ALREADY be in the HOF.

    Reply
    1. mark

      I like Trammel, but writing “If he had played in NY, I’m convinced he would have more than 1 MVP, and would ALREADY be in the HOF.” is just silly, at least the MVP part. Playing in NY hasn’t helped win MVP votes since at least 1963, No Met has ever won MVP, and the Yankees have 4 MVP’s in the last 50 years. The Tigers have 5.

      Reply
  10. Andrew

    Trammell is the anti-Joe Tinker. Being part of a famous combination helped get Tinker in the Hall of Fame; being separated from Lou Whitaker makes Trammell look somewhat ordinary in an era of bulked-up shortstops.

    I don’t know another pair who so perfectly defy baseball’s mania for individual performance. If you had to draft a pair of middle infielders to deliver two decades of sustained excellence, Trammell-Whitaker would be first … second … and third.

    Reply
  11. Herb Smith

    Joe’s list is going to be bulging at the seams soon. Some of the BR’s have posted excellent lists numbering the remaining players that Joe hasn’t mentioned yet…and there are EASILY 55-60 iconic players left. Famous, sky-high WAR, huge reputations…it’s simply not going to fit.

    I honestly think that there will be a few more Jeff Bagwell/Frank Thomas pairings. And I would have no problem with that. Here are two that seem obvious:

    #35 ? Clemente/Kaline: These two guys had almost identical careers, and played at almost the exact same time. Both were born in 1934, 4 months apart. Both were defensively superb, cannon-armed rightfielders; Kaline won 10 Gold Gloves, Clemente won a dozen. Both had power, but were better known as high average hitters; both won batting titles. Career OPS+ Kaline 134, Roberto 130, but Clemente had a higher peak. Career WAR: 94.3 for the Pirate, 92.6 for the Tiger. That’s a razor-thin margin. Postseason? Clemente .318/.354/.449 Kaline .333/.373/.563
    Both are nearly universally beloved. Both first-ballot HOFers. Both were key members of underdog, iconic World Series Champion teams.

    That one seems obvious.

    How about #50 being for those “shooting comets across the sky” players: Pedro and Koufax.

    Can you think of other pairings?

    Reply
    1. rpmcsweeney

      Pedro & Koufax are similar in narrative arc, but not in performance. Wherever Koufax ends up ranking, Pedro should rank higher (unless Joe weights narrative more than performance, which of course he’s free to do!).

      Reply
    2. Geoff

      Pedro:Koufax::Gibson:Santana

      Pedro and Koufax are not remotely comparable, as I’m pretty sure a 13-year run of dominance counts as a comet shooting across the sky.

      Reply
  12. Geoff

    Agree on all counts. I certainly see a path for Rivera making the top-100, based largely on his post-season performance. I just can’t get past the fact that being a one-inning reliever is just SO much easier than starting. It’s like arguing that someone who can bench-press 275 lbs once is stronger than someone who can throw up 225 lbs 30 times.

    Reply
    1. Geoff

      Oops…I posted this last night in response to DM, but didn’t think it worked, so I reposted in the correct spot this morning. My bad.

      Reply
  13. MisterMJ

    It’s pretty obvious why Trammell is not a favorite among HOF voters. Not just that many HOF have yet to embrace advanced sabermetrics but because there’s too many reasons to look at Trammell’s career as lacking. He hit 20 home runs twice in his 20-year career and hit 15 or more home runs one other time. His 185 HR-1003 RBI-.285 BA doesn’t resonate for traditionalists. Also he really whimpered across the finish line to end his career. From 1991-1996 (age 33-38), he had one good year (albeit missing a bunch of games) but in the other five years, he played 101, 29, 76, 74, and 66 games and was a marginal player (his total WAR was 0.8 those five seasons). Like it or not, these things matter.

    So without the benefit of advanced stats, Trammell was seen as a very good player who had a couple great seasons and limped to the finish line. It also doesn’t help that Trammell entered the HOF ballot just as the Holy Trinity of short-stops were in full flight and PEDs were skewing offensive production.

    And comparisons to Jeter makes no sense because with Jeter, stats are secondary. Jeter is probably the most popular player of his time (universally known in and outside the game), captained the YANKEES, has rings, hit milestones (3,000 hits), and has a reputation that precedes him. Fair or unfair, that’s always how it’s been. There’s a reason why DiMaggio was called the “greatest living ballplayer” for much of his retirement … laughable but many took it very seriously.

    I know JoePo likes to campaign for his favorites or those that deserve more attention (i.e. Blyleven). But Trammell? No way.

    Reply
  14. Rick Rodstrom

    Perhaps the reason Joe overlooked Alan Trammell when making the list of 100 greatest players of all time is that he wasn’t. That doesn’t mean he shouldn’t go into the Hall of Fame, just not on the highest rung. Trammell never led the league in a single offensive category. His career was spotty. Of his twenty seasons in the bigs, he had an OPS+ in only 9 of them, and in one of those seasons he only played 29 games. He was a good defensive shortstop, but not in a class with Ozzie Smith. Maybe I didn’t watch him enough, but I can’t remember Alan Trammell burning up the highlight reel on defense. In two decades, his teams made the post-season twice. He was great in one post-season, lousy in the other. He had one truly great year, but it wasn’t historically great—he didn’t lead the league in anything—and a few others that were excellent. That’s it. There’s nothing in his resume that says, this guy is one of the indispensable players in baseball history, and to leave him off the list of top 100 players is a crime. Plus, he was one of the worst managers of all time.

    What Joe may be doing here is what he did with Ron Santo and Bert Blyleven. These were two players with borderline HOF cases who were underrated. Joe and others wildly overrated both of them, making it seem like they were the creme de la creme in an effort to move them over the line into the Hall. It worked, and they are both in the Hall, where they belong (and on Joe’s list, where they don’t). So now Joe is pushing for the canonization of Alan Trammell. It might generate enough buzz to advance his case for the Hall, but overrating an underrated candidate doesn’t help our understanding of him.

    By the way, I think the shortstop who is the most underrated is not Alan Trammell, but Cecil Travis, who lost 4 prime years to World War II, ages 28-32, just as he was coming into his own as a great player. He was never the same player after he returned. Ted Williams among others spoke glowingly of him (in 1941, when Williams hit .406 and DiMaggio had his 56 game hitting streak, it was Travis who actually led the AL in hits).

    Reply
    1. Geoff

      Cecil Travis was a fine player, and his career was pretty clearly derailed by WWII, but what on Earth does he have to do with Alan Trammell?

      “What Joe may be doing here is what he did with Ron Santo and Bert Blyleven. These were two players with borderline HOF cases who were underrated. Joe and others wildly overrated both of them, making it seem like they were the creme de la creme in an effort to move them over the line into the Hall. It worked, and they are both in the Hall, where they belong (and on Joe’s list, where they don’t). So now Joe is pushing for the canonization of Alan Trammell. It might generate enough buzz to advance his case for the Hall, but overrating an underrated candidate doesn’t help our understanding of him.”

      Dude, take off your tin foil hat. This entire paragraph is ridiculous.

      Reply
  15. Dave

    Irregardless of Trammell’s greatness or lack thereof, what Joe is doing with this list is reminding me of why I grew to love baseball as a child. You see, the Detroit Tigers were my favorite team when i was young. During the 1984 season I played on a little league team in Bozeman, Mt named the Tigers, my coach that year took his son to a Tiger game somewhere and camped out in the lobby of their hotel. He brought back autographed baseballs for the entire little league team; mine had Sparky Anderson, Chet Lemon, Willie Hernandez and several others I could not decipher on it. Pretty exciting for a ten year old kid. My grandfather, who lived near Lansing, MI came out to visit and built me a pitching target made of 2×4′s and carpet remnants, then he taught me how to grip and throw 2 seam and 4 seam fastballs. Jack Morris, Lou Whitaker, Chet Lemon, and Guillermo “Willie” Hernandez were idols to me, but Alan Trammell was my hero.

    I would sit in my living room on Saturday afternoons watching Tiger games (when they were broadcast) on NBC’s Game of the Week, with Vin Scully and Joe Garagiola announcing. I would futz with the rabbit ear antenna’s until I could just make out the game being played through the fuzz of static on the tv. Then I would lay on the floor with my baseball glove and a baseball and throw it at the ceiling, catch it on the way down, then throw it again, and again, and again, the whole time imagining I was Alan Trammell making amazing play after amazing play on the field.

    I haven’t really thought much about Alan Trammell over the last few decades; I moved on to other favorite players as his career went into decline. I know a lot of people here like to use advanced metrics to judge a ball players value, and I usually agree. Hell I think the steroid era players should be in the HOF already, those petulant writers who live on their gut feeling of guilt really annoy me (and at the same time they are denying me the enjoyoment of watching the truly worthy players of my time their rightful place in the HOF, there is no justice in that, but that is an argument for another day). At the same time, just seeing Alan Trammell’s name on the blog today took me back to those hot days of the summer of 1984; my grandfather teaching me how to pitch, getting an autographed baseball of stars from my favorite team (and then seeing them win the World Series later that fall), and watching the game of the week on Saturday afternoon’s in my parents living room while playing catch with myself makes me realize that those innocent days of my youth were the foundation for my lifelong love of baseball. So irregardless of the authors actual intention with this list, I say thank you Joe; reconnecting with memories of why I grew to love this game thirty years ago is a great experience. I hope other readers out there are reminded of that regardless of the era they grew to love the game in.

    Reply
  16. Rick Rodstrom

    To Geoff and DM,

    I believe it was said about Bill Russell, “Funny how good teams seemed to follow him around.” Like Jeter, there were holes to Russell’s game—he couldn’t shoot, including free throws—and when thinking about the best player at his position, you wouldn’t necessarily think of him first, as guys like Wilt and Kareem and Shaq scored many more points in their careers. All Russell’s teams seemed to do was win—2 NCAA championships, an Olympic championship, and 11 NBA championships. Russell won his share of awards, but said he really didn’t care much for them, they were only people’s opinions after all. The titles were what he cared about. No amount of argument could take those titles away. They were on the books. They were what he played for. There were some aspects of his game that you could see, like his rebounding, and some aspects that you couldn’t, but the bottom line is that Bill Russell’s teams won, year after year after year. If I had to start a team and pick a center, I’d pick Bill Russell, even over guys with much gaudier numbers. If I were starting a baseball team and had to pick a shortstop, I’d pick Derek Jeter, even over guys with much gaudier numbers, like Honus Wagner and Alex Rodriguez (who is an argument unto himself as to the limitations of stats when judging a player’s overall value). In sports, the bottom line is winning, and no shortstop was ever part of more winning teams than Derek Jeter. Funny how good teams seemed to follow him around.

    Reply
    1. DM

      Rick,

      The point is not to deny Jeter credit for being on a successful team. The point is, when you made your statement alluding to the Yankees’ success as “That is Derek Jeter”, it seems you’re attributing the primary success of the team to Jeter’s arrival, to the exclusion of all other factors. That is, forget Rivera, O’Neill, Cone, B. Williams, Posada, Pettitte, Wells, Boggs, and all of the other talent that the Yankees organization acquired through their farm system, through their checkbook, and through trades over the past couple of decades. You seem to be implying that Jeter arrived and Voila!, it’s championship time. In other words, Derek Jeter was the missing ingredient. I would offer up that this great run of Yankee teams, as much as any in history, were great because of the tremendous depth of talent they had, their ability to go out and acquire the best players, not because of “hey, funny how good teams followed Jeter around”. What actually occurs to me is not a comparison to Bill Russell, but that they used to say the same thing about another Yankee shortstop, Phil Rizzuto. “Funny how good teams followed him around”. I think it’s closer to reality to say “Hmmm…funny how Rizzuto had such good choice in teammates”.

      Also, comparing to Russell’s more than a little iffy. For starters, Bill Russell was a much more impactful and significant player in basketball than Jeter was in baseball. Also, the impact a single baseball player is nowhere even close to the impact that a superstar basketball player can make. You look at what happens when superstars come and go on a basketball team vs. a baseball team. It’s night and day.

      Russell, as I’m sure he’d admit, had a lot of help, too. Bob Cousy, Sam Jones, K.C. Jones, Tom Heinson, Frank Ramsey, Bill Sharman,John Havlicek, Bailey Howell…..and that’s just the Hall of Famers. That’s without even getting into the whole premise of how much Red Auerbach played a part in the success of that franchise.

      So, what seems more reasonable reality….that Jeter was an integral part (but just one part and just one player among many) of a great organization’s success? Or “funny how good teams follow him around”? Think about it.

      Reply
      1. Rick Rodstrom

        Sure Jeter had help, as had Russell. But when the Yanks made the playoffs in 16 out of 18 years that Jeter was with them, he played with an enormous variety of teammates. The two constants in all those years were Jeter and Rivera. That says a lot. The Yankees spent lavishly in the 1980′s and won nothing, and the Yankees will continue to spend lavishly after Jeter leaves, and are unlikely to duplicate what they accomplished with Jeter on the field. He did what only a handful of players have ever done. He made his teammates better. He excelled at the only stat that ultimately matters, which was winning. You can take anyone you like in the history of baseball to be your shortstop, but I want Derek Jeter on my team.

        Reply
    2. Ian R.

      Leaving aside the absurdity of giving Bill Russell credit for all those championships when he had so many Hall of Fame teammates… you do realize that baseball isn’t especially like basketball, right? A great basketball player can be on the court all the time, set up plays for his teammates, dial up his intensity when the game is on the line, and so on. A baseball player, no matter how great he is, can only bat when his turn comes up in the lineup, and he has precisely no influence on what the other 24 players on the roster accomplish.

      Derek Jeter was a phenomenal player who was part of many winning teams. That’s it. He did not assemble those teams, he did not coach those teams, he was not somehow responsible for the greatness of the players around him. He was responsible for his own greatness. Isn’t that enough?

      Reply
      1. Rick Rodstrom

        Yes yes and yes about Russell having help, and Jeter having help, and basketball being different than baseball etc. Everything you say is true.

        My greater point is that sports are played by human beings. Social animals who are emotional creatures who take their cues from group leaders. And some human beings make the people around them perform better. They are completely focused on the goal of winning and do not shrink from the big moment. They play hurt and they play smart. Meanwhile other players are perceived as selfish and uncaring, putting personal goals above team goals. They create discord and bitterness.

        It’s interesting that in baseball some of the greatest players of all time never won a World Series. Ty Cobb. Ted Williams. Barry Bonds.Three guys on the short list of the best hitter who ever lived, and all considered total jerks. No rings between them in a profession whose bottom line is winning the championship, although their WAR is off the charts.

        Meanwhile Derek Jeter, whose stats certainly do not compare to those guys, has been to the post-season in practically every team he’s played with, winning 5 championships along the way. At the end of the day, who do you want on your team? The A-Rods of the world, or the Jeters? Whose team is more likely to win a championship?

        Me, I want Derek Jeter. I’ll concede the stats, and take my chances.

        Reply
    3. EnzoHernandez11

      Two quick comments on Russell and Jeter:

      1. Put Wilt on the Lakers seven years earlier, when West and Baylor (and Wilt) were in their prime, and I’m not sure Russell would have been weighed down by quite so much hardware. Instead, every spring it was Wilt and Hal Greer against the 1960s wing of the Basketball Hall of Fame.

      2. Let’s build a time machine and go back to 1998. We’ll switch out Jeter with the Padres’ SS, Chris Gomez. If San Diego wins the World Series, I will personally erect a shrine to Jeter, Eckstein, Russell, and all the other players followed around by championship teams. Luis Sojo and Lonnie Smith, too.

      Reply
    4. Ian R.

      “In sports, the bottom line is winning, and no shortstop was ever part of more winning teams than Derek Jeter.”

      Actually, both Phil Rizzuto and Frankie Crosetti have more World Series rings than Jeter. I guess he’s actually the third-greatest shortstop of all time.

      Or perhaps you mean “winning teams” literally, as in “teams with winning records.” In that case, then Jeter is clearly the all-time leader in having a long career for a team with more financial resources than any other.

      Reply
      1. Rick Rodstrom

        My definition is teams that made the playoffs. Derek Jeter reached the playoffs as many times as those two combined. Granted today is a different era with more playoff spots, but the modern era also provides more chances to fall in a short series, as Billy Beane will tell you. The old Yankees might have had fewer rings if they had to play multiple rounds of playoffs to reach the World Series.

        By the way, Crosetti and Rizzuto were the epitome of the good-field/no-hit shortstops, as for each of them their lifetime OPS+ was under 100. Jeter of course gets roasted for his defense by the sabermetric crowd. For what it’s worth, Jeter had a better fielding percentage than either of them (Jeter .976/Rizzuto .968/Crosetti .949). There is something to be said for making all the routine plays with the occasional flashes of brilliance.

        Reply
          1. Geoff

            “Geoff, Jeter didn’t make the routine plays? What are you talking about?”

            First, Jeter’s career fielding percentage is .976, which is .004 better than the league average during that time. That means he converted about 2.5 more chances per season than an average SS. That’s 1-2 runs per season, or about three wins over the course of his career. Of course, this only includes balls that he actually got to, which leads to…

            Second, routine plays are not just the balls hit right at you. ML shortstops are expected to field balls that aren’t hit directly at them, as well. Many of these plays are considered “routine,” and Jeter was exceptionally had at making them.

          2. Mark Daniel

            Geoff, I don’t think I agree. But I think we can semi-analyze this with numbers.
            John Dewan reported the following in 2012 in comparing Jeter to Brendan Ryan.
            When balls were hit to the second base side of SS, the side were MORE grounders are hit, the average SS fielded 65% of balls. Ryan fielded 65%, Jeter 64%.
            Okay, so more grounders are hit to the 2nd base side of SS than the 3rd base side, and on all of these balls, Jeter was about league average.

            To the 3rd base side, going by 7-foot sections, Jeter fielded 73% of balls in the nearest 7 feet, compared to 86% for Ryan and 82% for league average. In this area, I would say Jeter is a little below average, but not terrible.
            Go out further, and we’re getting into terrible territory:
            By 7-foot sections:
            7-14 ft: Jeter 40%, Ryan 78%, Avg 61%
            14-21 ft: Jeter 16%, Ryan 56%, Avg 34%
            21-28 ft: Jeter 0%, Ryan 13%, Avg 8%

            I suppose the 7-14 ft range might be considered routine, though only 61% of plays were made on average. Is that considered routine? Maybe. If so, you may have a point.

            But if you take into consideration balls to Jeter’s left, and balls within 14 feet of Jeter’s right, then he’s below average for sure, but I don’t think he’s terrible.

          3. Geoff

            Mark,

            We can argue about semantics, but those numbers sounds pretty terrible to me. You’re telling me that Jeter was 50% worse than the league average on balls hit 7-14 feet to his left…yikes.

            If your definition of “routine” is ground balls hit directly at player, I suppose Jeter is *slightly* above average, and you can say that he “makes the routine plays.” I just don’t think this is the standard we generally hold Major League shortstops to.

        1. Ian R.

          “My definition is teams that made the playoffs. Derek Jeter reached the playoffs as many times as those two combined. Granted today is a different era with more playoff spots, but the modern era also provides more chances to fall in a short series, as Billy Beane will tell you. ”

          If your definition is ‘teams that made the playoffs,’ then the possibility of getting bounced in a short series is irrelevant. A team that gets swept out of the ALDS still counts as a team that made the playoffs.

          Under Rizzuto- or Crosetti-era playoff rules, the Derek Jeter Yankees would have made the playoffs a total of nine times. That’s the number of times they’ve had or tied for the best record in the American League.

          “But Ian,” you say, “there are more teams in the league now than there were then!” True. If instead we count times that the Yankees had one of the TWO best records in the league, the Jeter Yankees make the playoffs… 13 times. Still an impressive number, no doubt, but you can see how Jeter got many extra playoff appearances just because he happened to play his career in the Wild Card era.

          The late 90s and early aughts Yankees were probably the best-positioned team in the history of the sport for success. They had a great core of excellent players and enough financial resources to basically guarantee a 90-win season, and they played in an era when winning 90 games was a ticket to the playoffs. Jeter was a major contributor to those teams, no doubt, but he also benefited greatly from the expanded postseason, something he had absolutely nothing to do with.

          Reply
        2. tayloraj

          Your comment about Jeter’s fielding percentage being higher than Crosetti or Rizzuto ignores that fielding percentages during Jeter’s time are considerably higher…gloves have gotten bigger, groundskeeping standards have risen, etc. The average Major League team in 2013 made 92 errors and fielded .985, compared to 146 errors and a .976 percentage in 1950 or 180 errors and a .970 percentage in 1935, to give examples from seasons in the careers of the other two shortstops in this comparison.

          Reply
  17. Herb Smith

    This “good teams follow him around” debate has been going on since WAY before Jeter. At least baseball writers like Joe are loud enough nowadays to give a different view of things. Before that, the overwhelming “angle” of American baseball writers was this:

    “Joe DiMaggio won 9 World Series. Ted Williams won zero. Therefore DiMaggio had that “special something,” while Ted was a selfish loser.”

    We’ve gone beyond that, correct? Unfortunately, we’re about hear non-stop Eckstein-isms for the next 8 months.

    Reply
    1. Rick Rodstrom

      As a matter of fact, I believe the DiMaggio/Williams angle is a good example of what I’m talking about. 9 World Series to 0 is pretty stark, isn’t it? And when you look at how Ted did in the most important games of his career, he wasn’t exactly great. On October 4th 1948, the Red Sox played a one game playoff against the Indians to decide the pennant. Ted went 1-4 (single) with an error in an 8-3 Sox loss. In October 1949, on the final games of the season, the Red Sox needed to win one of two against the Yankees to win the pennant. In two games, Ted went 1-5 (single) with 3 walks and an error as the Yankees won both (Joe D went 3-7 with a double and a triple). In his lone World Series in 1946, Williams famously hit .200 over 7 games with no extra base hits. The most famous clutch performance in Ted Williams life came when he had a chance to hit .400—going 6-8 in a doubleheader on the last day of the 1941 season. Note that this was a game that had no bearing on the pennant, a purely individual achievement. Joe DiMaggio was perceived by his teammates, the press and the fans as a guy who helped his team win, while Williams was perceived as a guy who was only concerned with his own hitting, and a look at the record bears that out.

      Reply
      1. DM

        “As a matter of fact, I believe the DiMaggio/Williams angle is a good example of what I’m talking about. 9 World Series to 0 is pretty stark, isn’t it?”

        Yes, it is. 9 World Series to 0 is very stark, indeed. But baseball is not boxing. DiMaggio didn’t personally defeat Williams. The Yankees won those 9 titles, not DiMaggio. It’s not that Williams failed to win any…..the Red Sox failed to win any. You really seem to have trouble grasping this. You seem to imply that a team’s success is validation of its best player’s status as a “winner”, and that a team’s failure an indictment of its best player’s status as a “loser”. You win and lose as a team. DiMaggio was a great player. So was Williams. DiMaggio was on better, more successful TEAMS. It’s not really any more complicated than that.

        Reply
        1. Rick Rodstrom

          In 1967, Carl Yastrzemski had a season for the ages, winning the Triple Crown. He had an absolutely insane September, doing everything but driving the team bus to get his team to the World Series, where his line was a ridiculous 400/500/840. Still, the Sox lost in 7 games. Yet that’s the kind of performance where you have to give the man credit for doing everything he could possibly do, but his team just came up short.

          Williams was a multiple Triple Crown winner himself, yet he never had one of those stretch runs where he just put the team on his back and willed it into the post-season. As the rest of my post indicates, he kept folding in key moments. It’s the kind of performance that rubs off on your teammates, knowing that their superstar is at his meekest when it matters most. Since sports are about championships, you can’t just give him a pass and say, well it’s a small sample size. You don’t get that many shots at the title. Of course, if it’s a batting title you’re after, then Williams is the king. You can bet if it was the last day of the season, and his team was 20 games out, and he needed 3 hits to win the batting title, he would get 3 hits. But if he needed to get a hit in the 9th inning to put the Sox into the World Series, history shows that he wouldn’t.

          Reply
          1. Pat

            DB, I’m pretty sure Rick Rodstrom is an elaborate Joaquin Phoenix-scale hoax. It might even be Michael Schuur himself! (and if so, I really, really want to see the tv series it turns into)

          2. Rick Rodstrom

            DB

            Yes, Ted Williams was a war hero. And a great fisherman. Neither of which have anything to do with what he did with the Red Sox.

            Ted Williams the Red Sox left-fielder got into epic fights with writers and fans. If the game seemed out of hand, he might leave after his last at-bat. He was an indifferent baserunner and outfielder. He folded in key moments. And his team never won a championship. Perhaps there is a correlation.

            Look, old Teddy Ballgame didn’t need to win 9 World Series like Joe D. But if we are to award him the accolades of GOAT, he had to have done it at least once.

          3. DB

            ok, I will bite against my better judgment. I never said Ted Williams was a GOAT (might have been the GOAT hitter but that is another conversation). I just think it is extremely narrow to blame crap owner(s) on Ted Williams. 1946 through 1950 were the only times that Ted Williams had even fighting chance to get his team to do anything and he did.

            1946, he led them to the World Series (and he did carry them on his back) where before the World Series, he played in an exhibition game and got plunked and was seriously injured (so lets give Miguel Cabrera a pass but not an injured Ted Williams). So now we are talking about three games. Lets take the 2 game series. Wow, a 500 OBP. That stat line to me (once again I was not there and I assume you were not but maybe you were) but that stat line looks like the Yankees pitched around him and gave him nothing to hit. So even then I would call that a draw. So one game where his team lost by 5 runs, he did not make it a 3 run game. So he choked in one game or just had a normal game. Maybe he could have done more and maybe he did but we simply do not have enough evidence from your examples to know.

            Now I am willing to be convinced (I am not a real heavy stat guy) where his game score, RISP, etc. or something with real numbers at least demonstrates that he choked or only care about his numbers. The only word I have that I have about him were the hired hacks from the Boston papers (I have worked in both journalism and politics and, excepting few good apples in both bunches, not that highest integrity groups if you do not kiss their rings).

            My war comment was simply that if he only cared about stats, he would have stayed home same as our great heroes like John Wayne. He choose not (so did a lot of others) but not many who went twice.

            BTW: Joe DiMaggio (another great player as well who played 51 games in the World Series)

            Regular Season: .325 .398 .579
            World Series: .271 .338 .422

      2. Ian R.

        “On October 4th 1948, the Red Sox played a one game playoff against the Indians to decide the pennant. Ted went 1-4 (single) with an error in an 8-3 Sox loss.”

        You know who started that game for the Indians? A pitcher named Gene Bearden, who led the league in ERA and won 20 games that year. If the Cy Young had existed in 1948, he would’ve won it handily. It was a mirage in many ways – he actually had more walks than strikeouts – but that one year, he was dominant.

        Ted went 1-for-4 against one of the best pitchers in the league in the smallest possible sample size of one game. Clearly he was a choker.

        “In two games, Ted went 1-5 (single) with 3 walks and an error as the Yankees won both (Joe D went 3-7 with a double and a triple).”

        So… you’re telling me that Ted actually reached base more times than DiMaggio did, but because he did it with walks instead of hits, he’s somehow not-clutch? Is it Williams’ fault that the Yankees pitched around him? Apparently so.

        “In his lone World Series in 1946, Williams famously hit .200 over 7 games with no extra base hits.”

        You mean that Series in which Williams could barely swing a bat because he’d been hit by a pitch just a few days before?

        Also, if Ted was a guy who was only concerned with his own hitting, why would he choke in the one and only opportunity he ever had to showcase his hitting on the game’s biggest stage?

        “Joe DiMaggio was perceived by his teammates, the press and the fans as a guy who helped his team win, while Williams was perceived as a guy who was only concerned with his own hitting, and a look at the record bears that out.”

        “Perceived” being the operative word there, given that DiMaggio actually hit quite a bit worse in the postseason than in the regular season. Also, a look at a sample of 12 games (the one-game playoff with the Indians, the two against New York, the doubleheader and the seven-game World Series – when, again, he was playing through an injury) does not “bear out” anything.

        Reply
  18. Herb Smith

    And by the way, I both like and admire Derek Jeter. He’s a hell of a ballplayer, a class act, and a certain Hall of Famer. But let’s stop comparing him to deities.

    Reply
  19. Ian R.

    @Geoff: “starting is so much more difficult that it offsets 31 points of ERA+.”

    In 2013, AL starters put up a 4.15 ERA against 3.69 for relievers. That accounts for less than half that ERA+ difference. I get that the overall talent level for starters is higher than the overall talent level for relievers, but unless you’ve got a way to quantify that, your argument is based on speculation, not fact.

    “You’re comparing apples and oranges…I’m not sure one really has anything do do with the other.”

    The point is that Mariano Rivera’s career is comparable to Randy Johnson’s peak, and Randy Johnson is widely considered to have had one of the greatest peaks in baseball history. On that basis, it’s reasonable to argue that Rivera was one of the greatest pitchers in history – again, not in Randy Johnson’s class, but in the top 100.

    “None of these seasons were really “monster” relative to the best seasons in baseball history. They’re not even close to the best seasons put up by Clemens, Maddux, Pedro, RJ, etc.”

    All of those seasons were, by WAR, equal to or better than Maddux’s best season (his career high was 9.7 WAR). Randy Johnson’s best season was 10.9 WAR – all of those seasons were comparable. Pedro and Clemens each had seasons that approached 12 WAR, which puts them ahead of the guys I named, but not by a LOT, and Dwight Gooden actually had a season that was even better than that. Certainly they’re not “not even close” as you said.

    “Neither of them was remotely as obscure as Melancon or lots of other guys that have put up spectacular relief seasons.”

    Again, a spectacular relief season isn’t comparable to a spectacular season from a starter because it represents so few seasons. You either need to take spectacular two-month runs from starters (in which case you’re going to come up with a lot of obscure guys) or take spectacular three-year runs from relievers (in which case you’ll see a lot of Billy Wagners and Eric Gagnes and Trevor Hoffmans and not a lot of Mark Melancons).

    Reply
    1. Geoff

      “In 2013, AL starters put up a 4.15 ERA against 3.69 for relievers. That accounts for less than half that ERA+ difference. I get that the overall talent level for starters is higher than the overall talent level for relievers, but unless you’ve got a way to quantify that, your argument is based on speculation, not fact.”

      The overall talent level for starters is not only higher than that of relievers; the two groups barely even overlap! We know this because no team would even think of taking a healthy, dependable 3/4 starter and use them as a reliever. The overall ERA for starters and relievers is completely irrelevant…what is relevant is how the best relievers performed as starters, and the answer to that is pretty obvious if you spend about 15 minutes on B-R. The evidence is staring you right in the face, whether it’s Rivera or Papelbon, or Gagne, or Nathan, or anyone else you want to choose. There has literally never been a mediocre reliever who became a starter and was suddenly dominant. Doesn’t the fact that it only works one way tell you something?

      “The point is that Mariano Rivera’s career is comparable to Randy Johnson’s peak, and Randy Johnson is widely considered to have had one of the greatest peaks in baseball history. On that basis, it’s reasonable to argue that Rivera was one of the greatest pitchers in history – again, not in Randy Johnson’s class, but in the top 100.”

      I reject the fundamental premise of this argument, which is that “Rivera’s career is comparable to Randy Johnson’s peak.” No, it really isn’t. What if Craig Kimbrel stays at his current level for the next dozen years…will you be arguing that he’s the greatest pitcher in baseball history, since his “peak” will be the greatest of all time? I made this point earlier, but it still holds: If I bench press 225 lbs once per day for the next month, and Jadeveon Clowney benches 225 lbs 30 times at the NFL combine, it would be absurd to argue that I’m just as strong as he is. This is exactly the argument that you’re making.

      “None of these seasons were really “monster” relative to the best seasons in baseball history. They’re not even close to the best seasons put up by Clemens, Maddux, Pedro, RJ, etc.”

      All of those seasons were, by WAR, equal to or better than Maddux’s best season (his career high was 9.7 WAR). Randy Johnson’s best season was 10.9 WAR – all of those seasons were comparable. Pedro and Clemens each had seasons that approached 12 WAR, which puts them ahead of the guys I named, but not by a LOT, and Dwight Gooden actually had a season that was even better than that. Certainly they’re not “not even close” as you said.

      bWAR doesn’t account for luck on balls in play or HR/FB rate. I’m pretty sure you already know this, but hoping I don’t. WAR is also a counting stat, so that fact that people threw more innings in the 1970s allows for higher totals. The notion that Mark Fydrich ever performed at a level comparable to Greg Maddux is laughable, and you know it.

      “Again, a spectacular relief season isn’t comparable to a spectacular season from a starter because it represents so few (innings).”

      No, it’s not comparable because the job is much, much easier.

      You either need to take spectacular two-month runs from starters (in which case you’re going to come up with a lot of obscure guys) or take spectacular three-year runs from relievers (in which case you’ll see a lot of Billy Wagners and Eric Gagnes and Trevor Hoffmans and not a lot of Mark Melancons).

      You’re missing the key point here, which is that Gagne and Hoffman *were* obscure until they became Gagne and Hoffman. Same with Rivera. Heck, Hoffman was an 11th round college draft pick as a SHORTSTOP; he couldn’t hit, so they stuck him in the pen and he became a great reliever. Has anyone ever been drafted late as a position player, and become a great starter? I don’t think so.

      Reply
  20. Bono

    of course, if he didn’t “cause” them he doesn’t get credit for them. Rivera’s usage has a lot to do with precedent’s of closer usage specific to the time. They don’t actually have a direct relationship to his skill. This is similar to the argument that players with great short careers are simply not as good as those who play for longer. It may hold water. But Rivera, despite only pitching those innings, was a totally dominant closer every single year for 17 years, minus one for being injured plus one when he was pitching an inning earlier. No one has done that. Ever. Or even come close. The idea that his selection is “cute” is, I think, silly, and also somewhat aggressive. Do you think Joe doesn’t think he’s a top 100 player? That seems even harder to argue.

    Reply
    1. Geoff

      The reason I think it’s “cute” is that Rivera’s ranking (by Joe’s own admission) is basically an attempt to split the baby:

      “If I was a smart man — I’m not smart man, Jenny, but I know what love is – I would rank Mariano Rivera pretty much ANYWHERE but right here at No. 95. That’s because there are certainly two divergent schools of thought on Mariano:

      1. He absolutely does not belong in the Top 100 at all.
      2. He absolutely belongs MUCH higher than 95.”

      The “no one has done that, ever” argument falls a little flat, too, since modern closers have really only existed for the last 25 years. The word “ever” attaches some sort of historical weight to it, but the truth is that Rivera is really part of the first generation of guys that had a chance to do what he’s done. Comments like that are going to look pretty silly in 30 years when there are a dozen guys with 600 saves and a 200 ERA+. If Craig Kimbrel retires with 700 saves and 250 ERA+, are we going to call him the greatest pitcher of all-time?

      Reply
  21. Aaron Durden

    Derek Jeter > Alan Trammell. My all-time best shortstops (including Banks/Yount – though if you want to not include them, simply move everyone else up two notches):

    1. Honus Wagner
    2. Cal Ripken Jr.
    3. Ernie Banks
    4. Robin Yount
    5. Derek Jeter (meaning he’d be #3 if you prefer Banks at 1B and Yount in CF)
    6. Arky Vaughan
    7. Barry Larkin
    8. Ozzie Smith
    9. Luke Appling
    10. Joe Cronin
    11. Pee Wee Reese
    12. Alan Trammell

    Trammell is underrated in terms of HOF voting, yes, but Joe VASTLY overrates him. And keep in mind, Trammell might fall further down the list once Jimmy Rollins (whom I think is vastly underrated), Troy Tulowitzki, Hanley Ramirez and a few others.

    Lastly, I think my Top 5 is can be agreed upon by most, no matter what order you put them in.

    Reply
    1. Geoff

      “And keep in mind, Trammell might fall further down the list once Jimmy Rollins (whom I think is vastly underrated), Troy Tulowitzki, Hanley Ramirez and a few others.”

      This is not a complete sentence, so I’m not 100% sure where you were going with this, but it’s hard to take your argument seriously when you suggest that Jimmy Rollins might surpass Trammell as one of the All-Time greatest shortstops. Rollins was a nice player…earned a few AS games and stole an MVP. He is not within shouting distance of this list.

      Reply
      1. Aaron Durden

        I was typing in a hurry and multi-tasking so forgive my incomplete sentence. Once Rollins, Tulo, and Hanley Ramirez and a few others finish their careers, Trammell might fall further down the list.

        Regarding Rollins, to me his career is shaping up pretty nicely. He has one more MVP than Trammell, he has 4 GGs, and he’ll almost certainly wind up with more than 2300 hits, 500+ doubles, 200+ HRs, and 450-500 SBs.

        To put him up against Larkin and Trammell: J-Roll either already is ahead of them or will almost certainly end up with more Hits, Runs, Doubles, Triples, HRs, and SBs. He has a higher SLG than Trammell and nearly double the number of SBs while being caught fewer times.

        People can talk about WAR all day long – as both Larkin and Trammell have higher WAR (Baseball-Reference version) than Rollins – but WAR is simply too flawed to be taken seriously. According to WAR, Ted Williams is ranked 14th (seriously), Lou Gehrig 18th and has Phil Niekro ranked higher than Steve Carlton, Bob Gibson, and Pedro Martinez. For crying out loud, WAR ranks Fergie Jenkins ahead of Pete Rose, Joe DiMaggio, and Johnny Bench.

        So again I say. Rollins will end up having a much better career than Trammell and a comparable if not slightly superior career to Barry Larkin.

        Reply
      2. Aaron Durden

        Bob – I see reading comprehension isn’t your strong suit. It’s okay, not everyone finishes high school, my friend. I said “My Top 5″ (Wagner, Ripken, Banks, Yount, Jeter) can be agreed upon by most. I didn’t put A-Rod in my top 5 for two reasons: one, he admitted to and then was later caught using PEDs. That automatically bumps him down a few notches. Secondly, if you eliminate those years from his career – just the years he admitted to it, which anyone with an IQ higher than that of a squirrel can figure out weren’t the only years he juiced – he becomes much less sensational. He openly admits to taking steroids while playing in Texas; take away his years as a Ranger (150+ HRs) and he ends up looking awfully similar to Ernie Banks, but without the charm.

        If anyone can reasonably argue that Wagner, Ripken, Banks, Yount, and Jeter are not the Top 5 best shortstops of all-time, I’d love to hear it. I honestly don’t care what order you put those 5 in, but they’re the top 5.

        Reply
        1. BobDD

          Why should anyone make “a reasonable argument” against your non argument? You’ve merely made a declaration, not an argument. My disagreement is with your snippy declaration not with an actual argument. So without bothering with a rational argument any more than you did, my point is that your list of the top 12 SS in history is missing what I believe to be an obvious choice, and I’m sticking with that opinion (which is of equal value to yours I’d think). You’ve evidently somewhere heard the phrase “reading comprehension” used as a conversation stopper and now throw it around without understanding its meaning.

          Reply
          1. Aaron Durden

            Bob – I have a Bachelor of Science degree in English. I’ve published more pieces than you’ve likely ever written at all. So trust me, when it comes to the use of “reading comprehension” I absolutely nailed it.

            What you did was take my quote out of context and, instead of applying it as it should’ve been, you applied it to something it was never intended for. Hence, your reading comprehension is weak at best.

            Now do me a favor and sue your ninth-grade English teacher for passing you instead of failing you, you imbecile.

  22. tombando

    No Al Simmons, Fergie Jenkins, Goose Goslin, Billy Williams, Harry Heilmann, Willie Stargell, Mo Rivera….yeah yer missing a bunch here pallie. But the nod to Trammell’s cool.

    Reply
  23. Ian R.

    “According to WAR, Ted Williams is ranked 14th (seriously), Lou Gehrig 18th…”

    WAR is a counting stat. Williams and Gehrig, as you surely know, both had shortened careers, the former due to military service and the latter due to ALS. The fact that they’re both in the top 20 despite having less playing time than most all-time greats speaks to just how great they were.

    “has Phil Niekro ranked higher than Steve Carlton, Bob Gibson, and Pedro Martinez.”

    Niekro is fourth all-time in innings pitched. Again, WAR is a counting stat. Knucksie pitched more innings than Carlton, Gibson and (especially) Pedro, and over his longer career, he accumulated more total value. That’s a legitimate analysis. WAR is not claiming he’s better than those other guys were at their best, which would be absurd.

    “For crying out loud, WAR ranks Fergie Jenkins ahead of Pete Rose, Joe DiMaggio, and Johnny Bench.”

    DiMaggio is another short-career guy. Bench, in addition to not having an especially long career, was a catcher, and we all know that WAR undervalues catchers. Rose has a lower WAR than you’d think because he was actually a sub-replacement player for the last seven years of his career. That said, the main thing I get from this comparison is that you probably shouldn’t compare pitcher and position player WAR directly.

    Anyway. Through his 14-year career, Rollins has 42 WAR. Through the first 14 years of his career, Alan Trammell had 62 WAR. There’s no comparison – Trammell was a much better hitter by the standards of his time, and it shows in his cumulative value.

    Rollins has a higher SLG than Trammell, yes. He’s also played his home games in one of the most hitter-friendly parks in the league for his entire career, and he’s played in a much more offense-heavy era than Trammell did. Moreover, Trammell was much better than Rollins at getting on base, and OBP is much more important than SLG.

    Also, considering Jimmy Rollins is coming off the worst season of his career, and considering he’s been a below-average hitter for four of the last five years, it’s hardly safe to say that he’s going to add a bunch more value to his career case. He’s very likely nearing the end of the line.

    Reply
    1. Geoff

      Niekro, Carlton, Gibson, and Pedro peak comparison (by WAR):

      Best season:
      Steve: 12.1
      Pedro: 11.7
      Bob: 11.2
      Phil: 10.0

      Best two seasons:
      Steve: 22.3
      Bob: 21.6
      Pedro: 21.4
      Phil 18.9

      Best three seasons:
      Bob: 30.5
      Pedro: 30.4
      Steve: 29.1
      Phil: 26.7

      Best four seasons:
      Pedro 38.4
      Bob: 37.5
      Steve: 35.0
      Phil: 34.3

      Best five seasons:
      Pedro: 45.6
      Bob: 43.8
      Phil: 41.0
      Steve.40.5

      Best six seasons:
      Pedro: 52.5
      Bob: 49.9
      Phil: 47.6
      Steve: 46.0

      Best seven season:
      Pedro: 59.0
      Bob: 55.9
      Phil: 53.6
      Steve: 51.5

      There’s no doubt Niekro wasn’t as good as the other three guys at their respective bests , but it’s interesting how he much of the gap he closes (or eliminates) in what amounts to less than a third of his 24-year career. Pedro is obviously on another planet (unlike a certain Dodger lefty), but you can make a solid case that Niekro was a better pitcher than Carlton.

      Reply
      1. Ian R.

        Sure could. It’s also amazing how much Carlton drops off after his best three seasons. Granted, when your best season is 12 WAR, there’s quite a lot of room to drop off and still be pretty awesome, but Niekro’s year-in, year-out greatness overwhelms Carlton’s in the aggregate.

        Of course, the issue with judging Niekro with advanced stats is that they don’t really know what to do with knuckleball pitchers. rWAR loves him. fWAR is significantly less rosy – with 80, he’s still a clear Hall of Famer, but Carlton is over 100 by the same measure thanks to all his strikeouts. It’s a clear case of process vs. results.

        Reply
        1. Geoff

          In general, fWAR does a better job of evaluating (as you put it) process, while bWAR measures results. I generally prefer fWAR for determining how well someone actually performed, but in the case of Niekro it just just doesn’t trust his performance on batted balls. I’m inclined to believe that if you significantly outperform your expected BABIP over 24 years, it’s probably a skill.

          Reply
    2. Aaron Durden

      Thanks, Ian, for pointing out what I already knew: WAR doesn’t mean much. And frankly if it did, Trammell would’ve been in the HOF a long time ago…

      Reply
      1. Ian R.

        Thanks, Aaron, for completely misinterpreting what I said.

        WAR means quite a lot. It’s just that comparing career WAR, unqualified, gives you an incomplete picture. No one is saying that higher WAR automatically means better player. What I am saying is that, given the sheer size of Alan Trammell’s WAR advantage, he pretty clearly had a better career than Jimmy Rollins.

        Making a bunch of crazy comparisons across eras and positions and throwing out all the context is not a valid counterargument to that claim.

        Reply
  24. Pingback: Set For Me | CrossFit Lake Highlands

  25. KB

    I think I learned something here.
    If Derek Jeter = Bill Russell = Joe DiMaggio, and
    Joe DiMaggio > Ted Williams while Bill Russell > Wilt Chamberlain,

    then one must conclude Robert Horry > Karl Malone

    Reply
    1. tayloraj

      …and Luis Sojo >> Mattingly, that gutless choker. On a more serious note, what does all this real winner stuff mean with respect to Reggie Jackson? Won 5 titles despite being a divisive, combative on teams famous for dysfunction?

      Reply

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